I believe that introducing strength training to youth athletes at an early age is one of the best things coaches and parents can do for kids.
Getting a kid in the gym benefits his or her athleticism and in-game performance. It also teaches them maturity, perseverance, respect, how to handle failure, achievement and confidence like almost nothing else can.
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But working with youngsters is not easy. After all, they are still developing in several ways from the inside out. Approaching a youth program with meticulous attention to detail, individualization and safety is of the utmost importance.
Even the most miniscule observations can go a long way. Kids create habits at a young age—and a lot of times, those habits stick with them for life.
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That’s why it’s important to enforce basic etiquette in the gym. Here are three common gym habits that adults should correct as soon as they see them in their young charges.
1. Chewing Gum While Working Out
My young athletes don’t, but do you remember the Michael Jordan days of 1990’s NBA Championship domination?
MJ had everyone chewing gum. It was the “it” thing to do. Then it slowly fizzled out. Now the most commonly chewed thing on the NBA floor are mouthguards.
The major reason I am anti-gum in the weight room is breathing. Having gum in your mouth can disrupt your breathing patterns and be detrimental to your exercise form and results, and potentially your health. Imagine trying to teach your athletes to diaphragmatically breathe, and all they’re focused on is not choking on or spitting out their Big League Chew.
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Another key reason to skip the gum is that it has the ability to suppress thirst-indicating functions. When you chew gum, you’re constantly ingesting your own saliva, whether you realize it or not. This can fool your body into thinking it is receiving fluids with hydration properties, when actually you’re just recycling your own saliva.
From this, two things can happen. Either you get a really dry mouth and literally have to get a drink of water to wet your whistle between every set, or you end up with a false feeling of satiety from all the faux water you drank, which could lead to dehydration. Neither option is great.
So it’s well worth the 5 seconds it takes to tell your athlete, “Hey, spit that gum out before we get started.”
Plus, have you ever tried to clean gum off turf, rubber flooring or a treadmill? Point made.
2. Bringing a Cell Phone to the Gym Floor
Everyone has a smartphone. Even I find it hard at times to peel away from my mobile device in my free time. With social media usage at an all-time high, SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms are consuming more of our kids’ lives.
Athletes working with a trainer should leave their phones in the locker room to focus on instructions and applying them to the exercises. I think it shows respect and dedication to the trainer, program and facility.
On the flip side, an athlete working out solo can put on headphones and turn on some tunes. Although it may limit some exercise movements, as long as it complies with the facility’s rules, go right ahead.
3. Working Out With Improperly Laced/Tied Shoes
It pains me to say this because it seems so obvious, but it needs to be addressed. An athlete’s shoes need to be fully laced and properly tied to assure safety during a training session.
Honestly, it’s unreal how common it is to see athletes of all ages working out with untied or barely tied shoes. Barefoot training is one thing, and I love it, but simply not tying your laces is an entirely different issue.
True story: A few months ago on Instagram I saw a coach post a photo of his $11 million NFL athlete mid-workout with his Nike shoes completely untied. I don’t know what the workout entailed, but there is a 99.9 percent chance it didn’t excuse the untied shoestrings.
This guy is a multi-million dollar athlete. If he doesn’t think unlaced shoes are a big deal, his trainer should. I’m not willing to sacrifice my career or my client’s career for a bunch of likes on social media. It might look cool, but one rolled ankle could turn into a sequence of injuries that lead to something worse, due to the musculoskeletal compensations that may occur.
Teaching our youth simple, but vital, habits such as these three can go a long way toward advancing their careers and enhancing their personal lives. These standards create a sense of responsibility and preparedness that can carry over to their sport, their education and their professional lives.